This column, which I have the great fortune to write twice a month thanks to the LGBTQ San Diego County News, has opened my mind and heart sharing with you, the readers, about the people I call my friends — learning who they are and the positive and powerful ways each one of them impact our community and the lives of those they encounter. As I have always said, “We live in the most wonderful city in the world,” mostly because of the people who make our city come to life. I believe it is because of the so many diversified people that we share our communities with. We come from every walk of life, every color, every religion, and every challenge that unites us as a people. We learn from each other as we also teach each other about our cultures, diversity, sexuality, and the common thread that actually does brings us together as human beings. Kindness and compassion are a huge and important factor that I can say has always been a leading example of so many people in our community, but I know no one who holds this truth better than my wonderful friend Saul Mendoza.
At 16 years old, Saul immigrated from a small rural town outside of Acapulco, Mexico to the United States, scared but happy to be here for a better opportunity in life. Saul did have a brother living here but he moved back to Mexico only after being here two months. Not knowing what to expect, Saul found himself alone, not able to speak or understand the English language was a huge challenge, but one he was willing to learn how to overcome. He knew he would need to work hard to do what was expected to make America his new home.
In the early years of moving here to San Diego, he worked hard to learn how to speak English and made a few friends that helped him with shelter and food. In 1992, Saul found his break and prayers answered when he landed a job at Hamburger Mary’s. He said to me, “to this day I will always cherish the love and gratitude that Chris Shaw and Doug Snider gave me. If it had not been for them, I do not know where I would be today.” Saul also said: “I then realized I would need to put in the effort, dedication, and love into my work, then that is when you get the results of having the three most important things one will need to survive in life, shelter, food, and clothes. I knew then my dreams had become reality.”
I had the great fortune of first meeting (and working side by side with) Saul when I was given the opportunity to bartend (at the then) Hamburger Mary’s back in the early 1990s. In fact, he opened the door and let me in that morning I reported for my very first shift. He was the first person I met on my first day of work. His position may have been bar-back and busboy, but he knew everything that was going on there. If it had not been for Saul that morning, I would had been completely lost. I kept asking him questions, and every time with his big smile he would say, “No worries amigo, I’m here to help you,” and help me he did. As long as we worked together and to this very day, Saul has never changed his amazing, helpful and kind attitude toward his work and the people he encounters daily.
Over the years, I have personally watched Saul grow from being that shy, young, hard-working man into an important part of the structure of the MO’s Universe team. Admired and respected by the team members he works with, he’s taken on leadership roles that prove he has more confidence and knowledge of himself. His customers are loyal, and always feel that they are the only special ones when Saul takes care of them.
Saul loves his job and his co-workers so much that he could not stop talking about his relationship with them: “I am very blessed to have the opportunity to work for a company where they let you have the freedom to be who you are, and express yourself along with our agreements and disagreements, but at the end of the day you can still call it home, that is what Chris Shaw teaches us. So, what else can I say from this experience? Well for one, I got the three most important things: food, clothes, and shelter. To top it all off, I made a lot of new friends, I learned more English, I learned so much from being around other people. I just enjoy my life at Baja Betty’s so much. Because that’s how I see and feel when I spend time feeling good with my co-workers, all my friends that come over to visit me and share part of their lives, and their stories. I am blessed that my friends and customers spend their time just to hear all my crazy stories of what I am going through every day in my life. Everything that my work offers me makes me feel good to share everything with those I call my family. That is why I can say I am truly a Mexican because you will hear that famous phrase that we say, “MI CASA ES TU CASA.” Saul says he is just a regular worker in a restaurant; he cleans tables, helps the bartenders, bartends himself and waits on tables. But in my book, there is nothing regular about his work ethic, his kindness and his willingness to make sure your experience is the best he possibly can offer you. I know Chris and Doug feel like they made the right choice when they invited Saul to be a part of the MO’s family so many years ago.
Saul is now 45 years old, since his journey to the United States began at 16 years old, he was unable to get a high school diploma, but he has proudly accomplished learning English and has become a United States citizen. He realizes the importance to give back to those who are also in need of help. Saul has never forgotten his own struggles and gladly volunteers his time and money to local organizations in need. It is not uncommon to see him volunteering for organizations like Christie’s Place, Mama’s Kitchen (delivering food to clients impacted with HIV/AIDS), PACTO Latino and anyone else who asks, he will do his best to support them. As he says: “I will do what I can, I will find away, because that is what makes me a much better person. Passing it forward to help others makes me feel I belong, because I have been there myself.” Now Saul did mention to me that he would like to get more involved with Hillcrest organizations that help keep our neighborhood clean. “I love my neighborhood of Hillcrest; it is my home, and it should always look and stay clean.”
Over the many years and working extremely hard, Saul has made it his passion to travel as much as he possibly can. He has traveled to more than 19 countries all over the world, learning their cultures, art and meeting the people. Saul says it is the greatest gift he gives himself to experience the globe and realized how fortunate he is to live in the greatest country in the world. He travels with different people over the years and even says that he is the easiest person to travel with if anyone ever needs a travel companion.
Saul calls himself the “troublemaker,” but it is all good trouble, that is for sure. If you have never met Saul, you should take the time to go visit him at Baja Bettys. He works the day shift Monday through Friday. You will be glad you did. San Diego is filled with so many wonderful and hard-working individuals we love to support and enjoy seeing when we go to our favorite hang outs. I, myself, have appreciated the loyalty and support over the last 30 years in the food and beverage industry. I have learned so much about myself just by knowing Saul — watching another human being like him take on life with such gratitude every single day has made me stop and appreciate my life even more. Never stop being who you are Saul, and I pray that all your dreams come true. You deserve that, and I love you, dear friend.